But at the Kincaid Park Chalet in 2006 that changed. Palin supporters came to a Republican Party event with a secret plan to put on red shirts on cue.
"And we all put them on. And the room just instantly went red and it just freaked out a lot of people," John Bitney, then Palin's campaign manager, said. "Because I don't think at that point they hadn't gotten a real visual sense of the growing popularity of Sarah."
Suddenly campaign signs turned into weapons.
"The pushing and shoving, the yelling got started," Bitney said. "Somebody took a swipe and somebody with a yard sign."
A debate during the Republican primary with Gov. Frank Murkowski and John Binkley provided another pivotal moment.
The two men dominated the debate with their bickering. Palin was quiet, but delivered the decisive blow. The moment seemed spontaneous.
"You know guys, we owe Alaskans a better discourse than this," Palin said, jumping in while Murkowski and Binkley argued.
"We had strategized with the idea that we knew they were going to go at each other," Bitney said. "But I give her so much credit, just for her timing, tone and inflection. She really nailed it."
Palin's sense of timing and her ability to seize the moment eventually brought down a lion in Alaska politics -- a sitting governor -- and later, a former governor, to become the first woman to take the job.
The corruption scandals from the past administration gave the governor the high ground and brought uncertainty to a Republican-dominated Legislature.
"She came in, kind of putting the Legislature in a defensive posture," Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said. "Because she was talking about those unethical legislators."
Lawmakers became increasingly afraid to challenge Palin. They didn't want to be branded as opponents of a popular governor.
Palin promised no politics as usual, a promise she kept from the beginning by moving her swearing-in ceremony from Juneau to Fairbanks.
She also broke with tradition at the Governor's Mansion. She decided not to live there on a permanent basis and cut the chef's position there, because she said her family could cook their own meals.
Slowly, jobs on her staff began to migrate from the third floor of the Capitol building in Juneau, to the 17th floor of the Atwood Building in Anchorage.
After the campaign, Bitney became the governor's legislative director.
"(That was) because a lot of the folks that worked the campaign, worked in the Anchorage office," Bitney said. "And more of the policy thinkers were sort of the Juneau folks."
Bitney says rivalries between the two groups didn't help the Palin administration present a united front to the Legislature, who were often confused by her unorthodox approach to government.
"Looking back on it, some of the disputes and conflicts were probably inevitable," Joe Balash, who served on the governor's gas line team, said.
"Certainly as governor, her style was in leading the public," Balash said. "More so than leading the government."
And if you want big changes, like the ones Palin pushed through on oil and gas, public support is a potent weapon.
"When she really wanted to use her abilities to promote an agenda, she knew how to do it," Dave Donaldson, and Alaska Public Radio Network capital correspondent, said.
Donaldson is a veteran of Alaska politics and says the state has never had a governor who could turn on the charm like Palin.
"I will remember the day she went by all the legislative offices with her bag of, basket, full of bagels," Donaldson said. "She and Piper were going out and talking to legislators' staff. Talking to people in the hallways, anybody."
Even Democrats found Palin's overtures exhilarating, compared to Gov. Murkowski, who ruled along sharp partisan lines.
Palin capitalized on their support for her landmark oil and gas legislation for AGIA and ACES.